This week we caught up with Megan Root, who founded Grounded, the pure cleaning power company, in 2016. Her experience in manufacturing in China, and then an overland trip from China to Cape Town, inspired her to take her career in product development and do just that: You might have heard of 254 brewing craft beers and the Kenyan Kombucha Booch for example. We asked Megan what inspired her to take the sustainable road, and what the future of manufacturing in Kenya looks like?
CE: How did you start off on this journey towards making more sustainable products?
MR: I first became obsessed with the impact of diets on our bodies, a prominent aspect of cuisine in Asia. The food in that region is all delicious and so regionally varied, because they design cuisine in relationship to the environment. In Sichuan, the food is spicy but the cuisine uses a particular kind of chili that helps bring humidity out of the body. That’s really where we started: thinking about how these cultures with a wellness foundation have incorporated this into routine and nourishment. And then, learning the fundamentals of large manufacturing operations. In Kenya, the salient reality is that there is little manufacturing and so many natural resources. In order to really leverage Kenya’s opportunities, investing in manufacturing from local natural resources is the way to go.
CE: How do you make effective cleaning products without using chemicals?
MR: We have returned to the fundamentals. During World War I, there was an incredible scarcity of oils and fats to make soap. With scarcity in the supply chain, innovation created chemicals that replicate the experience of a natural soap product. Now there are a whole bunch of foaming agents in products. So we wanted to ground our products in natural inputs, making natural soap, laundry power, laundry bars, body bars, dish soap. We make a liquid soap which is incredibly versatile; as well as disinfectants and infused cleaning vinegars. All of these products came from DIY research. I had my first child in 2014 and that led me to research what all these wellness mamas are doing. Dirt is not the most dangerous thing on the surfaces around us, and there are residual chemicals from cleaning products. That led me back to basics: soap, vinegar and hydrogen peroxide do everything you need.
CE: How do you source your products and what challenges do you have?
MR: Our raw materials are raw agricultural products, like moringa, orange peels, herbs, or by-products of agro-processed goods, like second-grade coconut oil. I think suppliers are delighted to have this local industrial uptake of what is waste for them; Grounded has access to quality almost-food-grade inputs at low prices. From the raw material perspective it’s straight-forward. But packaging is a challenging aspect. I have a hard time packaging our products in something that represents the value of what’s inside it. Our market research shows us that cleaning professionals don’t want glass bottles because they’re afraid of breaking them in a day-to-day capacity. Step one is using the circular economy to continue to use plastic but in a sustainable way, and the plastic we’re investing in is thicker, reusable over time, and 100% post-consumer plastic, which we buy at a premium. We also reuse as much as possible. Our next step is to possibly use glass or biodegradable plastic from China.
CE: How do you compare with conventional chemical products?
MR: Our products clean just as well as conventional cleaning products. But in addition, they won’t harm you and everyone you love. So, we would say, overall, we’re much, much, better! For us to really capture the market, it’s about articulating the environmental and personal wellness benefits of our products, also pushing the efficacy and the cost effectiveness of the product if people use it correctly. Because it’s concentrated, you use much less of it. There is this whole aspect of user-training that’s really important to us, and that will be key to our success: empowering users with more information.
CE: What do you think of Kenya’s sustainable manufacturing future?
MR: We’re small, and I see great growth prospects for us. However, generally Kenya can be unfriendly to small businesses. Tax obligations keep growing; there is a lack of meaningful tax incentives, even for companies operating with high human and environmental health standards; compliance is a multi-year process; we don’t have reliable access to electricity. The cleaning space in general needs improvement: there are no requirements to disclose ingredients, the production processes used can be incredibly energy-intensive, and the effluent is terrible for the environment. Certification or collective bargaining for sustainable manufacturing would be beneficial, and could help alleviate the financial and regulatory burdens that hinder the growth of the sector. The number of companies with an environmental and personal wellness focus is growing, driven by the consumer power of the middle class. We’re trying to anchor the concept of a wellness-driven lifestyle, and I see a growing energy around local manufacturing companies to provide that.